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Inland Northwest students were asked to write essays or create art on the theme “Words That Kill: Nazi Use of Propaganda to Justify Genocide.”
Adrien Regelbrugge won first place in the ninth annual Eva Lassman Memorial Writing Contest, and a $250 prize. He is a seventh-grader at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic School.
Carly Crooks took second place and $150. Nathan Kesler was third place and $75. Both are eighth-graders at Chase Middle School.
This year the Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust added an art contest.
Ava Raney, an eighth-grader at West Valley City School, won first place.
Lily Huffmanparent, a home-schooled seventh-grader, was second. Annalia Santos, a City School seventh-grader, took third.
Art entries are on display at the Community Building, 35 W. Main Ave., this month.
The essays and artwork are reprinted and displayed below.
Adrien Regelbrugge, St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic School
…But Names Will Never Hurt Me?
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis initiated a war that cost the lives of 55 million people, including the genocide of 6 million Jewish men, women and children and 5 million other “undesirables” in the Holocaust. Together with Joseph Goebbels, Hitler used propaganda to promote indifference toward the suffering of neighbors, disguised the Nazis’ genocidal actions, and helped shape a climate in which ordinary people carried out or tolerated mass violence and murder. (State of Deception) Propaganda is still used today to suit the purposes, good or bad, of those who use it.
In March 1933, Hitler declared that “the whole educational system, theater, film, literature, the press, and broadcasting would be used as means to the end of preserving the eternal values of the German people.” After the burning of tens of thousands of allegedly “un-German” books in Berlin and many other German cities, Goebbels said in May 1933 on the radio, “German men and women! The age of arrogant Jewish intellectualism is now at an end! You are doing the right thing … to consign to the flames the unclean spirit of the past…. Out of these ashes the phoenix of a new age will rise!” (State of Deception, pp 66-67).
The Poisonous Mushroom, an anti-Semitic children’s story for German youth, demonstrates how the Nazis sought to essentially brainwash their children, predisposing them against Jews from such early ages: “Yes, my child! Just as a single poisonous mushroom can kill a whole family, so a solitary Jew can destroy a whole village, a whole city, even an entire Volk…. The Jew is the most dangerous poisonous mushroom in existence; the Jew is the cause of misery and distress, illness and death…. The Jew is … the Devil in human form.”
In Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower, a dying Nazi soldier wished to confess to the author his crime of involvement in the burning of hundreds of Jews locked inside a house. After the war, Wiesenthal visited this Nazi soldier’s mother: “Ah, if you only knew what a fine young fellow our son was. He was always ready to help without being asked. At school he was really a model pupil – till he joined the Hitler Youth and that completely altered him. From then on he refused to go to church.” (p.90) Wiesenthal: “People like him are still being born, people who can be indoctrinated with evil. Mankind is ostensibly striving to avert catastrophes; medical progress gives us hope that one day disease can be conquered, but will we ever be able to prevent the creation of mass murderers?” (p.95)
The Nazis did not simply write words and make posters that instantly created mass murderers. Instead, acts of prejudice, including the use of words or media for name calling, ridicule and jokes at the expense of others, were the basis of genocide then and remain a tolerant society’s greatest obstacle.
Unlike the 1930s and ‘40s, technology today allows for the spread of words – good and bad – so much faster and to so many more people, worldwide. Online bullying (“cyber bullying”) is a major crisis from middle school through college. Using the internet — including apps, emails, Facebook, Instagram and numerous other messaging services, people are now able to spread whatever ideas and opinions they have about any and everybody. While in the past a person would need to be published, or at least make an awful lot of copies of paper to say what he/she wanted, today anyone can say what they want, and chances are there will be someone willing to read it. Hateful, inappropriate, prejudiced and bullying messages are sent, and often go viral … and unstopped!
Cyber bullying takes bullying and exclusion of others to an entirely different level, and causes even greater exclusion and isolation of the people and groups of people being bullied and persecuted. Teenage depression and suicide rates because of bullying and exclusion continue to rise, as well as hate crimes related to racial and religious bias, sexual preference and ethnicity.
The “poisonous mushroom” is not any race, religion or group of people. What is poisonous is hatred. It is hatred and prejudice that, like the baobabs in The Little Prince, if not rooted out early, will grow and overwhelm the planet. From bullying in schools to the assassination of French political cartoonists for the “crime” of expressing ideas, the world suffers and we should be ashamed.
I would use words and ideas today like people who have inspired me. If change can truly begin with me to help stop the beat of the hateful drums, I would do as students at a Vermont High School just did. They launched a “positive post-it” campaign in which they created a school app to offer praise and encouragement to fellow students in response to a school app that had been used to spread offensive, harmful comments about gays, Black students and others of different ethnic backgrounds. They succeeded in having the negative app removed, and changed the culture of the school.
I am also inspired by heroes such as the White Rose Society, the only group of Germans to use “positive” propaganda to inform fellow Germans of the Nazis’ crimes and to demand the Nazis’ removal. Like the White Rose Society, Anne Frank’s idealism that “people are still good at heart,” and the teachings of Martin Luther King that we are “all brothers,” I aim to stand up to hate, bullying and prejudice by taking action. I will work with my friends to use technology (Instagram, apps, etc.) and to make posters that ask for tolerance, understanding and appreciation of others. My hope would be that, to counter the mushroom of hatred, flower gardens of understanding and respect could win out. The Nazis could have been defeated if people joined together and stopped them when they were a minority. Let’s not turn the other cheek ever again, and murder indifference by using words and ideas for love, tolerance and positive action instead.
1. State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
2. The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal (Schocken Books, 1969)
3. Students Stand Up, Rally Against Cyberbullying, Dave Gram, Associated Press, http://tweentribune.com (12/27/2014)
4. The Poisonous Mushroom, published by Julius Streicher, 1938
5. The Little Prince, by Antoine de St. Exupery (1943)
Carly Crooks, Chase Middle School
To skew the minds of the masses.
From those who pour poison in water
And call the poison the cure.
To dictate the new norm
That all must conform to.
To create a darkness
Not easily dispelled.
Aimed at children
Who believe their teachers know everything.
To demean entire lifestyles
With no regard to the human lives living them.
To call the masses to war.
From those who cause troubles
And call them the ‘Solution’.
To instill fear for the future
Whilst offering protection.
To create an ideal
Aimed at the poor
Who are told they, too, can provide.
To offer one survival
But to ask for their life.
If I ask, “Why must we learn history?”
I’ll hear, “to learn from our mistakes.”
So tell me, tell me, tell me,
Just what exactly have we fixed?
Today, a word
Cannot sum up the hate.
Can only, just barely, explain
How the new targets of propaganda live.
This word is fear
Of being true to their spirits.
It is the oppressed, the isolated, that are the ones who live in fear;
Yet the oppressors and isolators are the ones with it in their names.
The list goes on and on.
What are they afraid of?
These people have done nothing wrong.
We like to think the world has changed;
That we’re all safe and sound.
But though no anti-this or anti-that posters are seen in schools
And though hate isn’t taught to all
People are still dying
Because love isn’t being taught either.
A word has the power
To tip anyone over the edge;
And used wrong every day,
May very well take a life.
“Do I look fat?”
“I’m so retarded.”
Word upon word
Ideas are formed
‘till hatred’s the norm
And different is wrong.
These ideas sink in
And spread doubt with the wind
‘till the people they touch
All wish they were dead.
I’m miles away from the cliff,
But maybe that other girl isn’t.
I’m focusing on the future,
But maybe she’s ready to end it.
Maybe she’ll sit in her room at night,
And replay the things that were said;
And her parents will sit oblivious to the fact
That she’s following the mantra of the dead.
One, two, three, four,
Prep the rope and shut the door.
Three, four, five, six,
Sunken eyes and slit wrists.
Five, six, seven, eight,
Why is it ourselves we hate?
Seven, eight, nine, ten,
Tried it once, now try again.
Nine, ten, eleven, twelve,
Dead inside, but they can’t tell.
Fake smile, dead eyes;
Scratched wrists, bruised thighs;
Note written, rope tied, don’t cry;
Acceptance is powerful;
When people accept others as they are.
But also for bad,
When people accept the dehumanization of others.
If we stand by as deaths are swept under the rug,
As though these people really didn’t deserve to live,
We are saying we agree.
If we stand by as hate rains down upon people
For their choices and their traits,
We are perpetuating this injustice.
So if anyone ever says,
“A word, please.”
I will say love.
For you cannot fight hate with hate,
Or with sheer numbers.
No matter how many people you have on a side, the side that uses
The side that weaponizes hate may seem strong
But hate soon becomes all they know.
When hate is met with love, they become unsettled
For hate is what one would expect.
If a word can change the world,
That word is love.
For love breeds courage,
And courage breeds determination.
And it has always been those
With the odds stacked against them
Who make the difference.
And there’s a reason why.
Nathan Kesler, Chase Middle School
Altering the Truth
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it,” as explained by Adolf Hitler himself. Propaganda is defined as biased information to shape public opinion and behavior. When Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933, he had already formed the opinion that the Jews were to blame for all of Germany’s problems. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler detailed his beliefs by dividing humans into categories based on physical appearance and ranking them in higher and lower orders. At the top, was the Germanic man, the Aryan with fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes (The History Place). He referred to this race as a supreme form of human, or the master race. When Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, this book would be given at weddings, graduations, or other celebrations. This was the beginning of his plan to brainwash a nation. Propaganda convinced German youth from a very young age to hate the Jews, since they did not have the attributes of the so-called “master race”.
Propaganda was also used in the school system to convince German youth that the Jews were to blame for all of their problems. By 1937, 97 percent of all teachers belonged to the National Socialist Teachers’ Union, according to the Nizkor Project. Every subject ranging from picture books to math story problems were filled with anti-Jewish messages. Also, German newspapers printed cartoons showing images of Jews with anti-semitic messages. These images caused the German citizens and soldiers to see Jews as a lower life form and a threat to the German Reich. Another method of Hitler’s propaganda was to force the prisoners of concentration camps to write and send post cards home stating that they were healthy and perfectly fine, when in actuality there were mass murders of Jewish people happening daily. Propaganda was also used to call the German people to help support the war effort through posters. Famous artists, such as Hans Schweitzer and Mjolnir showed Germany’s military strength and portrayed Hitler as a savior for Germany (Stokoe). This campaign shaped public opinion making the Jews the reason for Germany’s problems and the war. Hitler’s control of the media, radio, schools, films, powerful speeches, and newspapers made it possible for him to convince an entire population that one group of people, the Jews were the enemy.
Sadly, as much damage as propaganda did to the Jews in Germany under Hitler’s reign, propaganda is still an effective tool that can be used to persuade young people to exclude, dehumanize and/or persecute individuals or groups of people in our world today. For example, many terrorist groups are using propaganda to tell their people that Americans are responsible for many wars and problems that their nations face, just like Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s problems. In politics, our presidential candidates use propaganda to promote their agenda and make their opponent appear to be unintelligent, or not fit for leadership. In advertisements, propaganda is often used to portray women as requiring beauty to be accepted in society. In our schools, people are divided into groups based on popularity, intelligence, athletic ability, and those who may be overweight, have a disability, or may not seem to fit into an “accepted” category are made to feel excluded - as if there is something wrong with them, and that the others are somehow superior to them. Although it would be ideal if the world was free of hate, prejudice, discrimination, and racism, it is not. Propaganda still targets young people, especially those who do not fit in, or who are trying to find their place in this world and unfortunately, these types of propaganda often work all too well. As a result, the Ku Klux Klan still exists, and Hitler’s beliefs are still believed by groups such as the Aryan Nations and the Neo-Nazis. Through propaganda the ideas of Hitler, the idea that one group is superior to another, the idea that somehow some humans are less than, is still persuading young people today to carry out actions of hate and violence.
Finally, although propaganda can be a very effective method of promoting an agenda such as Hitler did, there are ways to counter hateful propaganda. One way to effectively fight back against destructive propaganda is through writing. In the poem First They Came for the Communists, by Martin Niemoller, the powerful message of the importance of speaking out when you see things that are wrong comes through loud and clear. Poetry, novels, articles, and essays, that expose propaganda and encourage people to fight back against such hateful ideas, are powerful tools that counter the shameful behaviors that are promoted by that very propaganda. Another way to counter harmful propaganda is to be thinkers and speakers. We must be able to identify propaganda and use our voice to call it out for what it is, particularly if it promotes discrimination or hate. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We know what propaganda did to the Jews; we have the power to prevent it from happening to anyone ever again.
“The History Place - Rise of Hitler: Hitler’s Book “Mein Kampf”” The History Place - Rise of Hitler: Hitler’s Book “Mein Kampf” N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
Mills, Mary. “Propaganda & Children during the Hitler Years.” Propaganda & Children during the Hitler Years. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
“Nazi-KKK- Aryan Nation March on U.S. Capitol.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
Stokoe, Claire. “100 Years Of Propaganda: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - Smashing Magazine.” Smashing Magazine. N.p., 12 June 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
Winning artwork from middle-school students
|From left to right, Raney, Huffmanparent and Santos.|
Ava Raney, West Valley City School
THE POWER OF HOPE
My piece uses images of the past to show how a society can learn to hate innocent people. After World War I a hurting German population was easily influenced by Hitler’s propaganda. Included are photos of young children falling prey to Nazi lies. My piece also uses words such as “teach,” “educate,” and “history” to emphasize the importance of remembering and learning from our past mistakes. I was inspired to create this piece to show that when people choose hope, love, and kindness, evil can be defeated.
Lily Huffmanparent, Home-schooled
THE STAR OF LIFE
German propaganda used visual images, so I used the Star of David in my art. Five points are the propaganda posters. Propaganda’s goal was to make people hate the Jews. The remaining point of the star represents the consequences of this hatred (graffiti, Krystallnacht, and concentration camps). Hitler’s posters showed horrible caricatures of the Jews. The center of my art shows the reality of Jewish life at the time as well as people who care about the Jews today. The background is a Hebrew song opposing war and is in blue to represent the State of Israel.
Annalia Santos, West Valley City School
IN THE CHILDREN’S EYES
Using watercolor, gel pen and colored pencils, I created a piece which shows how teachers taught the youth in Hitler’s time. As you can see, in the eyes there are the phrases “The Jews are aliens” and “The Jews are the key to our misfortune.” These were phrases that German children believed. The eyes are tearing which metaphorically represents the Jews and their suffering. The signs are ranting about freedom and rights as are the Hebrew quotes. The quote leading into the fire came from Hitler. I researched the Holocaust, speeches by Hitler, and stories from the survivors. I created this piece from the concept of propaganda, a topic that had already interested me, and I was trying to think outside the box.
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